February 2 was a big day in Ottawa. And it had nothing to do with the federal government's decision to keep politicians out of Canada's capital for another month.
No, Feb. 2 was the one-year anniversary of Cory Clouston's appointment as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators
. On Groundhog Day 2009, Clouston took the helm of a foundering Sens team that had gone through three coaches and sunk to 28th overall, all less than 20 months after battling its way to a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
These days, Clouston, a 40-year-old native of Viking, Alta., is rating Jack Adams
Trophy consideration for the turnaround he's authored in Ottawa. The Sens (35-22-4) recently reeled off a club-record, 11-game winning streak, and have rocketed all the way up to third overall in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years last spring.
And for a certain member of Clouston's old Cranbrook connection, the good-news vibe out of Ottawa comes as no surprise.
"First and foremost, for Cory, it's always about the team," says Calgary Flames
assistant coach Ryan McGill
, who spent two years with Clouston behind the bench of the WHL's Kootenay Ice, based in Cranbrook, B.C., from 1999 to 2001.
"He's certainly a very structured person away from the rink, and a structured person at the rink," McGill tells NHL.com. "He didn't really have an ego, and I think that says a lot about him."
Clouston was a virtual unknown in the NHL when he assumed control of the Sens, having only started coaching Ottawa's top affiliate, the AHL's Binghamton Senators, at the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
"We've definitely come a long way as a team and as a group, and Cory has done a great job of getting us together. He has made it not about 'me' and 'I,' but about 'us.' That's how we're going to have success and that's what we've done lately." -- Mike Fisher on Senators coach Cory Clouston
In a year and change, Clouston has fashioned a 54-33-8 record in Ottawa. This season, more importantly, he's helped Ottawa fans forget about the Dany Heatley
off-season contract debacle, and done what John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg
were unable to do -- get 23 players pointed in the same direction.
"We've definitely come a long way as a team and as a group, and Cory has done a great job of getting us together," Sens forward Mike Fisher
recently told reporters. "He has made it not about 'me' and 'I,' but about 'us.' That's how we're going to have success and that's what we've done lately.
"He deserves credit. There's no question of the difference ... he's come in and really given us a good plan, and motivated us, individually and as a group."
McGill, a former defenseman with Chicago, Philadelphia and Edmonton whose career was cut short by an eye injury, spent five seasons as head coach of the WHL's Edmonton-Kootenay franchise before handing the reins to Clouston and departing for the American League.
With McGill and Clouston running the show, the Ice won WHL titles in 2000 and 2002, capturing the Memorial Cup in '02.
McGill never doubted that Clouston could make his mark on the Sens.
"Values never change, right? If you've got strong values, which he has, and a strong sense of how the game should be played, which he has, it doesn't really matter what situation you walk into," McGill said. "Cory was always a guy who was able to get his teams to believe in what they were doing, and stick with things."
McGill, who spent four seasons coaching the Flames' AHL affiliate in Omaha, Neb., and then Moline, Ill., was elevated to Calgary last June as part of Brent Sutter
's incoming coaching staff.
So, the protégé beats his mentor into the NHL by four years, eh?
"That's all right," grins McGill. "That's all right."